The Forecast- Bears vs Eagles

Talk about an up-and-down game. That game in Cleveland one week ago was seriously like a roller coaster ride. That sounds cliché, but with every passing minute, it felt like one team had the game in the bag and the next minute it felt the opposite. In the end, the Bears pulled it out, despite turning the ball over 3 times, twice by Jay Cutler. Martellus Bennett’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown felt like it was the biggest momentum shift, but it ended up not being a turning point. The Browns lost Joe Haden, and the Bears picked Cleveland apart from there on. Alshon Jeffery made another unbelievable catch, giving him three of those in three straight weeks. Earl Bennett is now being used in a way that is beneficial to the Bears, and Brandon Marshall is still Brandon Marshall. The running game has been great whether it’s been Michael Bush or Matt Forte. Forte has now rushed for 100 yards in 3 straight games and Bush has a touchdown in 2 straight. This Chicago offense is one of the most fun and productive offenses I’ve seen in my lifetime. Luckily, the defense played well in this game when the offense was struggling. Despite only recording two tackles plus a tackle for loss, Jeremiah Ratliff had a strong game, and Zack Bowman recorded two interceptions, one of which went for six points.

The Eagles have had a crazy season. They started out the season with a great primetime win in Washington, but then proceeded to lose their next three games by an average of 15 points per contest. They quickly turned it around, and that can be credited to Chip Kelly’s decision to switch from Michael Vick to Nick Foles early on, thanks to inept play from Vick plus his typical injury issues. For some reason, Vick has always been given the benefit of the doubt from every fan and member of the media despite never being any good. Foles, a second year player from Arizona, has been great since taking over. Explosive WR DeSean Jackson and rookie TE Zach Ertz have greatly benefited from the quarterback switch. In 11 games, Foles has only turned the ball over 3 times and has thrown for 23 touchdowns, which of course has taken quite a bit of pressure off of All-Pro RB LeSean McCoy. McCoy is having another terrific season, and his December has been downright dominant. In three games this month, he is averaging 6 yards per carry and almost 10 yards per catch. Philadelphia has needed every bit of their offense; their defense has been getting ripped apart through the air. Their run defense is decent, but teams have been going away from the run because their secondary is so poor.

Both teams have a lot to play for in this game. If the season came to an end today, Philadelphia would be the 3 seed while Chicago would be the 4 seed. If Philadelphia can win their final two games, they will win the NFC East. The Bears can put a strangle-hold on the NFC North with a win tonight and losses by the Packers and the Lions. However, nothing can be clinched today for the Bears or for Detroit or Green Bay.

College Football Recap
There have been a few bowl games. USC and Fresno State, Colorado State and Washington State, Buffalo and San Diego State, and Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane all played yesterday. The two best games on paper were the first two listed. USC handled the Bulldogs with ease, making Derek Carr look human. Colorado State had a great 15-point comeback in the last 4 minutes to win by a field goal in regulation over the Cougars. That game may go down as one of the best this year when all of the games are over, thanks to the tremendous comeback by the Rams.

Somehow someway, the temperature is actually going to be beautiful tonight. Temperatures will be in the mid-60’s at kickoff, something that is very uncommon in Philadelphia at this time of the year. The elements, however, are a different story. Rain and wind could be a factor.

Injury report
Lance Briggs (shoulder) is finally back, which can only help the Bears. Otherwise, they once again remain healthy. However, it was announced this week that Charles Tillman (triceps) will miss the rest of the season, playoffs included. Like the Bears, the Eagles have a healthy team with no major players missing. CB Brandon Boykin (head), Najee Goode (hamstring), Earl Wolff (knee), and LB Mychal Kendricks (knee) are all probable, while special teams aces Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) are both out for this one.

Did you know?
From week 1 of the 2010 season until week 10 of this season, the Eagles were 9-18 at home. Since week 11 of this season, they are 3-0 at home.

NFL Predictions
There are a lot of good games today, and in them, I like Carolina to slip by New Orleans, Kansas City to beat Indianapolis, New England to top Baltimore, Green Bay over Pittsburgh, and Seattle to cruise by Arizona. (35-25-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
LeSean McCoy- This game might feature the two best pass catching running backs in football with Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy. As I mentioned above, McCoy is having a special season. He already has gone above 1,300 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. The Eagles will likely give McCoy the ball a ton tonight, especially after only giving him 8 carries last week in their upset loss in Minnesota. McCoy was vocal this week about wanting to get the ball more, and at night against the league’s worst run defense by far, he will probably get his wish.

Stephen Paea- After what I would consider to be a solid first two years in Chicago, Stephen Paea has done next to nothing in 2013. Paea was counted on heavily at defensive tackle after the injuries to Nate Collins and Henry Melton, but he has disappointed in a big way. In fact, he lost his starting job last week to Jeremiah Ratliff, who got the start next to Corey Wootton. Paea’s biggest strength has always been his prowess against the run, and the Bears will definitely need that tonight and moving forward, hopefully into January.

Devin Hester- Nobody has been harder on Joe DeCamillis and his special teams unit this year more than I have. It seems like every return and every ball punted by Adam Podlesh draws a flag on one of his 11 players. However, there has been a bright spot. Quietly, Devin Hester has put together a solid year. I have been pretty tough on Hester, too, but his 12.18 yards per punt return ranks him sixth in the league and his 28.6 yards per kick return ranks him fifth in football. Still, I feel like Hester is too passive. He calls for way too many fair catches, and he still has a tendency to run east and west. The Eagles’ special teams have really had a rough time this year. They have given up three returns for touchdowns so far, and last week, they refused to kick or punt to Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson. That resulted in the Vikings’ average starting position to be their own 39-yard line, something the Bears would gladly take, I’m sure. With the aforementioned Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson being out, two of their better special teams players, Hester has a good chance of making a huge dent in this game.

The Forecast
The Eagles and Bears have a lot in common. Their defenses have been poor and their offenses can light up the scoreboard. The media has taken notice of the offenses, hence the switch from a noon start to a 7:30 start. The weather could have an interesting effect here. When the Lions went to Philadelphia earlier in the year in a snowstorm, the Eagles’ offense really struggled in the elements. Eventually, the snow stopped and the field was cleared, which opened up the floodgates. Today, the rain and wind should be a factor throughout. However, the Chicago offense will likely be affected as well, since Philadelphia’s run defense is much better than their porous pass defense. In a game where the teams are evenly matched, I have to give the edge to the home team, especially when their strength is the visiting team’s biggest weakness. If McCoy gashes them, their only hope is to get pressure on Nick Foles, but after a putrid performance by their pass rushers against a bad offensive line in Cleveland, I can’t believe in that unit for the Bears today. Trust me, I really hope I’m wrong. Eagles 35-31. (9-5 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

Bears Control Their Destiny

Who would have thought that after being swept by the Lions, the Bears would end up controlling their playoff destiny with two weeks left in the season. That’s where they find themselves following Detroit’s loss to Baltimore at home.

If the Bears beat the Eagles and the Packers, they earn a home playoff game, probably against Carolina or San Francisco. I won’t even comment on the other possibilities, because the focus must be on winning the final two games, period.

We’ve seen this before, and I’m uneasy. The absolute best possibility? The final game of the 2013 season ends up being a one-game playoff for the division title against Green Bay on December 29th. It would be fantastic to have Aaron Rodgers return and have the Bears finally beat him.

At least nobody will be able to say the 2013 Chicago Bears season wasn’t exciting.

The Forecast- Bears vs Browns

The game on Monday night was, in a nut shell, the reason Phil Emery hired Marc Trestman. Trestman’s offense dominated the depleted and dreadful Cowboys’ defense. The Bears didn’t punt a single time all game long, which is a good thing when Adam Podlesh is your punter, and Josh McCown had an outstanding performance. I don’t think McCown is a long term solution for any team, but I am more comfortable with him than I was with past Bears’ back-up quarterbacks.

Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, besides a meaningless fourth quarter sack, were dominated on every drive by the Bears’ offensive line. That may have been that unit’s best work of the year. Because of that, Matt Forte and even Michael Bush had plenty of holes to run through, and the Bears stomped Dallas to improve to 7-5 and win their first December home game since 2010.

The Browns have really struggled lately, but for a young team, they consistently put out great efforts for head coach Rod Chudzinski. They have lost to Detroit, New England, Baltimore (twice), Kansas City, and Miami by an average of 8 points. Jason Campbell is having a pretty good season in relief of the inept Brandon Weeden, but all of that credit should go to second-year standout WR Josh Gordon, who has been putting on a show this season. Cleveland’s front office took a lot of heat earlier in the year when they dealt Trent Richardson to the Colts, but that trade has turned out to be a steal for the Browns as Richardson has really struggled since arriving in Indianapolis. Winning in grubby Cleveland is never an easy task, but the Bears do have something to build off of after their pounding of the Cowboys.

College Football Recap

Cleveland is pretty consistent this time of the year. Temperatures will definitely be below 32 degrees, and there is a 50/50 chance of snow showers. Wind gusts could vary anywhere from 25-40 mph, which will make field goal attempts unquestionably difficult.

Injury report
Jay Cutler (ankle) gets the start today. Lance Briggs (shoulder) remains sidelined. Besides those two and the obvious season ending injuries for Charles Tillman, Henry Melton and so on, the Bears are healthy. The Browns are the opposite. DE Desmond Bryant (heart), LB Brandon Magee (pectoral), and LB Quentin Groves (ankle) are all finished for the season, with Bryant being the biggest loss. He was very good for the Raiders last season and signed a big deal with Cleveland, but an irregular heartbeat ended his year earlier this month after a solid first 3 months. RB Willis McGahee (head), TE Andre Smith (calf), and G John Greco (knee) are out, but T Reid Fragel (illness), T Joe Thomas (back), and LB D’Qwell Jackson (ankle) are probable.

Did you know?
Josh Gordon has more receiving yards in the last four games than any receiver has ever had in a four game stretch. In those four games, the Browns are 0-4.

NFL Predictions
I actually can’t believe that it’s already week 15. Football season, which is the best time of the year, always flies by. For this week, I think Dallas, Detroit, Miami, and Seattle all get W’s. I also think Pittsburgh gets an upset win at home against Cincinnati on Sunday Night Football. (32-23-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Josh Gordon- As I wrote earlier on, Josh Gordon has been great for the Browns so far in 2013. He is catching everything thrown his way from whichever horseshit quarterback the Browns trot out there. He has good hands and blazing speed, meaning any catch can go for a touchdown. For a player comparison, he reminds me a lot of Chris Johnson in terms of his ability to take any touch for six points. Obviously, Johnson and Gordon play two different positions, but the game-breaking ability of Gordon rivals Johnson’s first few years in the league. The Bears’ pass defense has been better the last two games, which is shocking considering one of the opponents was Dez Bryant. They need a similar effort today.

Jordan Cameron- Hidden under all of the praise and glory thrown Josh Gordon’s way has been the emergence of Jordan Cameron. Cameron came out of USC being a raw pass catcher because he was barely used there, and many scouts thought he could be a WR instead of his current position of TE. Cameron’s first two years were a big disappointment, but he has really come into his own this year. He already has 72 catches and 7 touchdowns, which is very good for a tight end catching passes from these quarterbacks. Similar to Dez Bryant, Chicago limited Jason Witten’s production, and they must do another good job of that in this game.

Alshon Jeffery- Cleveland has been pretty solid against the pass, giving up only 222 passing yards each week, and that is good for 7th best in football. Most of that can be credited to the play of SS T.J. Ward and CB Joe Haden, both of whom should be in the Pro Bowl this season. However, Haden will likely be matched up with Brandon Marshall. Unfortunately for the Browns, Alshon Jeffery might be the best receiver on this team, and he should be able to have another good game against the weaker Buster Skrine. By the way, how awesome is that to read? Jeffery has been leaps and bounds better than last year. He is catching everything and has even shown off his underrated speed. That touchdown catch he made last week was absolutely incredible. Jeffery is going to play a major role in the future of the Bears’ offense.

Julius Peppers- Julius Peppers had another typical Julius Peppers game. In past years, that would mean that Peppers dominated the Cowboys, but as everyone now knows, Peppers is way past his prime. Peppers’ name once again did not show up on the stat sheet last week. This week, he needs to be better. Joe Thomas is has been in the Pro Bowl every year since he was drafted and so he is probably better than Tyron Smith, the tackle that Peppers predominantly went up against last week, so it won’t be easy. I look for Mel Tucker to try to get Peppers moving around the line today to get pressure on Jason Campbell. The Browns have given up tons of sacks this year, ranking second to last in that category. This is a game where Peppers and his fellow linemen should be able to notch at least 3 sacks.

The Forecast
This game is going to be another tough one. This is Cleveland’s final home game of the year, and D’Qwell Jackson has talked this week about that being motivational for him and his team. As I said, the Browns boast one of the league’s best defenses, and Jason Campbell has somehow proved to be a solid back-up quarterback. In the end, I believe Chicago has the better team, hence the 7-6 record compared to the 4-9 record that the Browns have. I believe Jay Cutler getting back in the line-up will spark the team, despite what every meathead fan has told you since Monday’s game came to an end. The ability of the Browns’ defense and Josh Gordon’s skill will keep Cleveland in it, but the Bears have too much to play for. Remember: the Bears’ biggest weakness is their run defense, but the Browns don’t have much of a running offense. Chris Ogbonnaya doesn’t have enough talent to be a major factor in this contest. Bears 24-17. (8-5 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

Bears Blast Dallas

Mike DitkaAlways a great night in Chicago when it’s freezing cold and the Bears can embarrass the Dallas Cowboys. Being at the game, I didn’t have access to commentary, but I believe I heard afterwards this was the fourth-coldest Bears game in their history. I had guessed in my 250 or so games I’ve been to, it had to be in the top 10. Glad to know I was able to be there.

Cold Monday Night games are great. Started off at Miller’s Pub and finished up with a late night bite and beers at Bub City, and slept well thinking about the Bears’ domination.

I am impressed at how the Bears have played the Cowboys in the Tony Romo era. Aside from the 2007 debacle on Sunday Night, during which Romo tore the Chicago defense to shreds, the Bears have dominated the Cowboys’ quarterback. From 1991 to 2007 the Bears were 2-5 against Dallas. Since then they are 3-0 (wins in ’10, ’11 and ’13.) And last night’s victory evened the all-time series at 11-11.

Josh McCown has been unbelievable, and at this time leads the NFL in quarterback rating. Alshon Jeffery is coming of age in a big way. The offensive line continues to improve. At the same time, the run defense continues to be staggeringly bad. That being said, overall, the defense stepped up when it had to last night.

When Dallas scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions, we were worried. I still wonder why the Cowboys bothered to throw at all, since they had little opposition when running the ball. But the offense kept up the pressure, and it was a fun night.

Unfortunately, the cynic in me thinks the defense will find a way to lose at least one of the last three games and we will be shut out of the playoffs for the third straight year. But we can hope that Detroit will falter and allow us to back in.

Couple of notes: the Bears’ game at Philadelphia on December 23rd has been flexed to Sunday Night primetime. And it looks like Aaron Rodgers is not close to returning. So glad it was a Bear that put him down and out all this time. It’s about time for the Packers to have a little bad luck.

Honoring Iron Mike

Mike Ditka

Iron Mike in his 1992 Bears sideline gear.

It’s been a crazy NFL season, as they all are. With a win tonight against Dallas, the Bears can again pull even with Detroit (record-wise), after the Eagles took care of the Lions on Sunday. In order to secure a playoff berth, the Bears must win out and have Detroit lose at least one game.

Here’s hoping the jersey retirement ceremony of #89 for Mike Ditka will help spark the Bears to a mandatory win over the hated Cowboys.

What are your favorite Iron Mike memories? Let us know.

The Forecast- Cowboys vs Bears

Once again, the Bears’ defense was embarrassed, getting predictably gashed all afternoon by Adrian Peterson. However the issue now, in my opinion, lies within the offense. It’s common knowledge that the Bears’ defense is atrocious, but it’s time to accept that maybe the Bears’ offense isn’t very good, either. Alshon Jeffery’s day was unbelievable and fun to watch, but the Bears are now 0-5 when Jeffery has 100 yards in a game. Josh McCown missed throw after throw in the first half and showed off his many weaknesses. This offense now hasn’t scored more than 23 points in a game since November 4. The defense is bad, but eventually the offense has to help; it hasn’t for weeks now.

Minnesota lost their starting quarterback, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Matt Cassel completed passes when he had to, including a 4th and 11 with a game on the line, where James Anderson inexplicably ran at him with his hands at his hips. The Bears are now 6-6. San Francisco won again, and right now, the Bears are also a half of a game behind the Lions in the division. They don’t own the tiebreaker there, either.

The Dallas Cowboys haven’t played in 11 days. They last played on Thanksgiving when they snuck out a home win against the Raiders. Tony Romo has been great this year, and after all of these years, he’s finally been consistently great. His touchdown to interception ratio is better than 3:1, and he’s completing 65 percent of his throws. Led by Romo, the Cowboys are extremely hot. Unfortunately, Romo has historically struggled in December, and his defense won’t help him this year if those issues flare up. The run and pass defenses for Dallas have been brutal this year, and those problems really showed when they gave up 8 million yards in one game earlier this season to the Broncos. The Bears pretty much have to win the rest of their games, and unfortunately, they have to start that against one of the NFC’s best.

College Football Recap
Obviously, there were two big games two days ago. Ohio State was matched up against Michigan State, and Missouri and Auburn went head to head. Auburn flew by Missouri, and the Buckeyes were finally knocked off by the Spartans. This sets up Auburn against Florida State for the National Championship.

The two underrated games of the day were Baylor against Texas and Oklahoma State versus their in-state rival Oklahoma. Somehow, the Cowboys lost to the Sooners at home, and Baylor beat the Longhorns. Therefore, Baylor won the Big-12 and will play UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.

The other three BCS games will be Oklahoma against Alabama (Sugar), Clemson versus Ohio State (Orange), and Michigan State and Stanford (Rose).

This game has the potential to go down as one of the coldest games in franchise history. The wind will be howling, and the temperatures will be in the high-teens. With all of that combined, the wind chill could dip into the negatives by the time this one ends.

Injury report
As I’m sure everyone has heard, Jay Cutler is still nursing his ankle injury and Lance Briggs, seven weeks after his 4-6 week injury, continues to rehab his shoulder. Kyle Long (ankle), Brandon Marshall (quad), and Major Wright (hamstring) will all play. Anthony Walters (groin) is questionable. Dallas has a healthy squad. Their leader on defense, LB Sean Lee, is back today (hamstring). CB Morris Claiborne (hamstring) is out and KR/PR/WR Dwayne Harris (hamstring) is questionable. LB Justin Durant (hamstring) is back, too.

Did you know?
Matt Forte has run for 120+ yards in a game on ten different occasions. The Bears are 9-1 in those games. The only loss was last week.

NFL Predictions
N/A. (32-23-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Jason Hatcher- Not a lot of people know about Jason Hatcher, because typically the majority of the attention goes toward DeMarcus Ware on that side of the ball but also the dysfunction inside the Cowboys’ organization. However, Hatcher is one of the best defensive tackles in football. On the year, he has a forced fumble to go along with a monstrous 9 sacks. That is a lot from the interior of the defensive line, especially when one considers that Dallas still has 4 games remaining. Defensive tackles haven’t given the Bears too many problems this year, but Hatcher has game-breaking ability.

Dez Bryant- Everyone thinks that they know that Dez Bryant is combustible, whiny, and selfish, but the fact of the matter is that he is one of the league’s best wideouts. In 2011, Bryant almost got to 1,000 yards in just his second year, and last year, he caught 92 passes for almost 1,400 yards. This year, he will definitely get past 1,000 again. On the season, Bryant has 9 touchdowns and 896 yards. I would guess that he has a great shot to surpass 1,000 yards tonight. In this weather though, watch out for Bryant’s ongoing back problems to maybe strike. They have lingered throughout this year.

Jeremiah Ratliff- The Jeremiah Ratliff-Dallas Cowboys saga is a strange one, but this is all one needs to know: when Ratliff was released and free to sign anywhere, he met with Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler, and they talked him into signing in Chicago because of the chance for the postseason and the opportunity to play the Cowboys. This past week, the Cowboys refused to really comment on it, and Ratliff played it off calling it just another game. Make no mistake about it: this game means a lot to Ratliff, and with DeMarco Murray running the ball for Dallas, Ratliff has to build off of what was a solid performance in Minnesota and have a great game for the Bears to make the Cowboys a one-dimensional offense. If not, Murray will blow through the Bears’ defensive line like every back has done this year.

The Forecast
The playoff chances for the Bears seem slim, but there is still a chance if they win 3 or 4 of their final 4 games. Detroit continues to choke away their best chance of a division championship in 22 years, and with their loss yesterday in Philadelphia, it opens the door for the Bears. Unfortunately, Chicago’s defense is battered and, for the most part, untalented. Dallas, meanwhile, has a bad defense as well but Tony Romo is playing some of his best football. His career record in December is 11-15, but this year, it just feels different for Romo and the rest of his team. The Cowboys are used to these elements, playing in New York, Washington and Philadelphia annually. The Cowboys will score, but the Bears will score more. Chicago needs this game. This may be Josh McCown’s last chance to impress his current coaches and front offices around the league before he hits free agency in March. Bears 34-30. (7-5 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

The Forecast- Bears vs Vikings

I understand that the Bears have been decimated by injuries this year, but this has gone way too far. To go to St. Louis, a young and very average team, and get embarrassed by a rookie running back not named Zac Stacy and who is also an undrafted free agent is unforgivable. Mel Tucker was brought in to maintain a relatively strong defense while they have a small transition phase, but he hasn’t done that. Jon Bostic was brutal last week, as was Chris Conte (what else is new?). The entire defensive line was terrible, too. They allowed huge gain after huge gain on the ground to the Rams, and they combined that with almost no pressure on Kellen Clemens. Julius Peppers mustered up only one tackle, and Shea McClellin was back to his normal, stinky self.

Marc Trestman didn’t have one of his better games either. Once again, he decided to not take 3 points on the goal line, and Michael Bush ran right into a defender from the Rams. It doesn’t help when your first offensive possession goes for one play and that play is a lost fumble inside your own 10-yard line. Another issue has been the penalties. Through the first handful of games, it wasn’t a problem, but now it is. If this was Lovie Smith, people would be remarkably upset. Trestman’s team has now committed 23 penalties in two games, and that’s unacceptable. When a team has it’s back-up quarterback in the game and the defense is horrible, giving teams extra plays and free first downs will always come back to bite that team in the ass, and for Chicago, it has. However, it’s hard to fault Trestman for the way the season has gone. He was brought in to give this organization some offensive firepower which is exactly what he has done. The Bears have scored 18 or more points in every game so far this year, and that has never been done in their history.

Had the Vikings lost last week, they would have the #1 overall pick in the draft if the season ended today. However, they tied, and so they would pick fourth. Hopefully the Bears won’t, but I know a lot of fans have underestimated the Vikings for that reason. They have a lot of holes, specifically in their secondary. They also are a pretty banged up team. Their head coach might be brain dead and their coordinators aren’t much brighter. Nonetheless, they have talented players on their roster. The Bears only hope to get into the playoffs is to win the NFC North. As of now, they would lose almost every wildcard tiebreaker, and Carolina and San Francisco haven’t been letting up at all. The Bears surely have a better team than Minnesota does, but it’s never easy to win in Minneapolis.

College Football Recap
Of course, the game of the day was Auburn and Alabama, and it definitely lived up to expectations. Alabama was leading this game 21-7 and 28-21, but Auburn scored a game-tying touchdown in the final minute. Alabama found a way to get into position to kick a game-winning field goal, but it came up short, and the Tigers returned it all the way for a touchdown. It will go down as one of the best games in college football history. Next week, Missouri and Auburn will face off for the SEC Championship.

Another big game took place in Los Angeles between UCLA and USC, but the Trojans were dominated. Brett Hundley had his way and showed everyone why some NFL scouts love him. USC’s lack of depth because of their loss of scholarships really caught up to them, as they lost two offensive linemen in the contest.

Duke won again and will play Florida State for the ACC Championship in Charlotte. Nobody expected much of anything from the Blue Devils (as usual), but David Cutcliffe has done a great job.


Injury report
The Bears’ injury list continues to grow. Matt Forte (knee) is probable. Stephen Paea (toe) and Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) are questionable, but I think both will play. This will be huge for the interior of the Bears’ defensive line. Lance Briggs (shoulder) and Jay Cutler (ankle) are still out. Major Wright (hamstring) is questionable. Minnesota has been hit by injuries pretty hard this year. Three of their most impactful players–LB Desmond Bishop (knee), S Harrison Smith (toe), and TE Kyle Rudolph (foot)–are all out for this game. Rookie CB Xavier Rhodes (head), DT Kevin Williams (quad), LB Chad Greenway (wrist), S Andrew Sendejo (foot) and WR Joe Webb (head) are probable. Adrian Peterson didn’t practice all week, but he will definitely play.

Did you know?
The Bears haven’t led by more than 7 points since October 10 when they hosted the Giants.

NFL Predictions
What do you know? It was another solid week for me, as the only game I didn’t get right ended in a tie. This weekend, I like the Seahawks, Chargers, Panthers, Colts, and in an upset, the Chiefs over the Broncos. (29-21-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Adrian Peterson- I have a feeling that every game from here on out, the opposing running back will be the player to watch. It helps when the opposing running back might be the best back anyone has seen over the last 15 years. Adrian Peterson is a beast (understatement of the day). The Bears’ run defense is now dead last in yards per carry given up (4.9) and yards per game given up (145.2), and it’s not going to be any easier today against Peterson. Last week, he ran over and around Packers’ defenders to the tune of 146 yards on 32 carries plus one touchdown. Green Bay made Christian Ponder look like a Pro-Bowl quarterback last week, and Chicago will do the same today if Peterson dominates like he’s expected to.

Josh McCown- Eventually, Josh McCown’s luck is going to run out. McCown has never been a good quarterback, and he will openly admit that. However, he may have one more week left in him. The Vikings, as previously mentioned, are pathetic against the pass, giving up more than 280 yards per week. Their yards per attempt allowed is pretty ordinary as well. This game may turn into a shootout, thanks to these two bad defenses. If it does, the Bears will absolutely need McCown to make some plays, especially with Matt Forte most likely not being 100 percent.

The Forecast
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to pick this game. Two weeks ago, the Bears beat the reigning Super Bowl champions at home, and last week, they lost in dominating fashion to St. Louis. Counting week 6, the Bears have alternated wins and losses each week. Going off of that and the fact that the Vikings are horrible, Chicago will win this one. I’m not buying it. I saw last week up close and personal (too close for my own health) how bad the Bears’ defense really is, and as I said, that was against an undrafted player. Why would anyone expect differently against the best player at that position, maybe at any position, in the game? I think Josh McCown will put up some points, but with an injured Matt Forte on the road in the Bears’ last game ever at the dumpy Metrodome, this is going to be too tough. I hope I’m wrong, as the division is still a real possibility. Vikings 30-24. (6-5 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

Turkey Day State of the Bears

Bears at Rams 2013

What a meltdown in St. Louis.

I haven’t posted since before that amazing Ravens game. What a roller coaster of a season. Since losing two games in a row to the Lions and Saints seven weeks ago, the Bears have now won, lost, won, lost, won, lost in that order.

As amazing as the Ravens game was, the Rams game was as disappointing. This weekend, the Bears start a stretch run of “final stands” every week. Pretty tough to expect success when your defense can’t stop the run or rush the passer. In reality, a 4-1 finish just might get the Bears into the playoffs with a 10-6 record. That’s a big maybe. A 3-2 finish leading to a 9-7 final record will likely mean the Bears are home for the holidays again.

Doug Buffone used to have a mantra that he recited almost daily. The keys for a team to have success in the NFL are 1) Rush the Passer, 2) Stop the Run, 3) Run the Football. I believe he changed #3 to throw the football recently. With the Bears incapable of 1 & 2, a lot of luck needs to be on the Bears’ side.

Unbelievably, we all find ourselves in the position of rooting for Green Bay today. Would you believe it? Hard to believe. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Forecast- Bears vs Rams

I’ll be honest with everyone. Up until this point, I think Martellus Bennett has been a gigantic waste of money. In the three weeks prior to the game against the Ravens, Bennett had 9 catches. Nine. Against Baltimore, he only had two, but he may have made the catch that turned the Bears season around. After a 14-yard catch by Alshon Jeffery to move the chains, Josh McCown found Bennett streaking down the seam for a 43-yard pitch-and-catch. The Bears only ran three more plays for the game, one of which was a field goal to propel them to a 23-20 victory in overtime. Last week, I said that that the Bears needed a big game from Julius Peppers. Peppers came through with 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. He got help from his DE partner, David Bass, who made an unbelievable play, where he took an interception for a touchdown after he avoided a low block attempt (a very pathetic effort, I may add) from Ray Rice. Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills also had very good games.

The Bears now head to St. Louis to take on the Rams. The Rams were on their bye last weekend, but in the game before that, they destroyed the Colts in Indianapolis. Don’t let that fool you—the Rams have struggled this season. Sam Bradford, who has always been pretty average, tore his ACL a few weeks back in a game in Carolina. Since then, Kellen Clemens has assumed the starting job and has been pretty bad. He’s completing 53 percent of his passes and has only thrown 3 touchdowns in 4 weeks. How did they beat the hell out of the Colts then? Rookie RB Zac Stacy has taken the reigns as the starter and has run with it, literally. He is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He has 4 total touchdowns and can catch the ball with ease. Defensively, they’re in the middle of the pack in terms of pass and run defense. However, St. Louis is giving up 8.4 yards per attempt through the air, which is good for 31st in football. In other words, they’re prone to giving up big plays through the air. On the ground, they yield 4.2 yards per carry, which is something that Matt Forte can exploit.

College Football Recap
Florida’s atrocious season continues. The Gators lost at home to Georgia Southern. The Eagles couldn’t complete a single pass, but it didn’t matter. I’m not so sure Will Muschamp will survive this. A few years ago, Florida was the premier job in college football. Muschamp has been a huge disappointment.

Baylor got smashed in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State dominated the Bears, and Baylor’s national championship hopes are over. This will help Ohio State, as with a Baylor win, Ohio State would have fallen to #4 in the BCS. Still, Alabama and Florida State are the class of the sport.

Speaking of the Seminoles, Jameis Winston is now the clear-cut favorite for the Heisman. Johnny Manziel had a very poor game at LSU as did Bryce Petty against Oklahoma State. Florida State crushed Idaho, and Winston had 4 passing touchdowns. Boston College RB Andre Williams and Alabama QB A.J. McCarron are probably Winston’s biggest competition for the award.

Quickly, a few conference championship games are now set. Ohio State will square off with Michigan State in Indianapolis, and Arizona State will play Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship.


Injury report
Jay Cutler (ankle) is still sidelined, as are Lance Briggs (shoulder) and Jeremiah Ratliff (groin). Stephen Paea (toe) left last week’s game and is week to week, so he won’t play today. The Bears waived Jeremy Cain, so Patrick Mannelly (calf) will return in St. Louis. Isaiah Frey (hand), Jordan Mills (quad), and Shea McClellin (hamstring) are probable. Craig Steltz (head) is questionable. For the most part, St. Louis is healthy. G Harvey Dahl (knee) is out. Cortland Finnegan, who has struggled to the point where he’s now the Rams’ nickelback, is out for the season (eye). They do have S T.J. McDonald (knee) returning today.

Did you know?
The Bears have only committed four pass interference penalties all year long. Half of them came last week.

NFL Predictions
I had a great week last week going 5-1. To try and duplicate more of the same, I like San Francisco to knock off Washington, Baltimore to beat the Jets, Green Bay to sneak by Minnesota, New England to beat Denver, and for an upset, I think the Chargers will get by Kansas City. (25-21 on the year)

Players to Watch
Robert Quinn- When Robert Quinn left North Carolina for the NFL, he was heavily sought after by many professional teams. He fell to the Rams, and he has been a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators ever since. Quinn had a decent rookie season, but in his second year, he turned it on with 10 sacks. Already in 2013, he has 12.5 sacks. Chris Long, who plays the opposite DE spot for the Rams, has been a terror as well, which means Quinn gets a lot of one-on-one looks. The Bears did a fabulous job on Terrell Suggs last week, as he only managed to notch one tackle. They have to do more of the same today on Long but especially on Quinn.

Tavon Austin- Tavon Austin is another guy who was wanted by a lot of teams, but St. Louis snatched him up 9th overall in this past draft. Austin might be the fastest player in football. He has four touchdowns this year, but he has had three called back due to penalties that were out of his control. Two weeks ago, he caught two passes against the Colts and both went for long touchdowns. In the same game, he had a return for touchdown, too. Chicago has to limit Austin’s catches today. If he starts catching a lot of balls, it just increases the chances of a lot of long scores.

Jon Bostic- In my opinion, Jon Bostic is going to be the next great Bears linebacker. He made a tackle on Jacoby Ford last week that only a handful of linebackers in the league could make, where he ran sideline-to-sideline and limited the speedy Ford to a minimal gain of four yards. He also made a Brian Urlacheresque play against the Ravens where he ran stride-for-stride down the middle of the field with Dallas Clark and intercepted a Joe Flacco pass. Bostic is going to be important once again today. A place where Bostic has had some difficulty is in the straight-ahead run game. The Rams will give Zac Stacy a lot of carries today, and Bostic has to be all over him. Kellen Clemens isn’t very good, but any quarterback can dissect a defense if his running back is getting big chunks of yards at a time.

The Forecast
After their annihilation of the Colts, the Rams firmly believe that they can build off of it and get into the playoffs. As I said, Sam Bradford wasn’t playing all that well anyways, so whatever they can get from Kellen Clemens is considered a bonus for Jeff Fisher. Their defense is beginning to play better, as they only surrendered 8 points to Indianapolis and 14 to Seattle. Getting T.J. McDonald back will only help their cause. However, I believe the Bears will edge out a victory. There will be more Bears fans’ in attendance than Rams’ fans. Josh McCown is playing unbelievable football (and everyone should realize that this will end eventually), and the defense has given up only 61 points in the last three weeks; that is leaps and bounds better than the horseshit efforts that they were putting out there in the first eight weeks. Oh, and one more thing: when I’m in attendance for a road game, the Bears are 4-2. Bears 27-20. (6-4 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

St. Louis Bound

Bears at RamsMan, that Ravens game. With the circumstances and heady play of Josh McCown and the defense (when needed), that will go down as one of the most unique Bears games in my lifetime. I’ll have to write a whole story about that.

Today it’s time to head to St. Louis for what will undoubtedly be a great time, win or lose. As always, I’m sure the stadium will be packed with a large percentage of Chicago Bears fans. And I hope the score will be similar to the 2008 result (pictured).

Make sure to watch the Chicago Bears Facebook page for updates throughout the weekend.